The term “mentor” comes from The Odyssey. Odysseus entrusted the care of his son, Telemachus, to Mentor when he set out to fight the Trojan War. The best mentors will help you learn and grow by sharing their knowledge and wisdom with you. In this way, you can benefit from their experience without having to suffer the consequences of gaining that experience firsthand.
Mentors are positive people by definition. It takes a positive person to give of himself of herself to help another learn, grow and succeed.
I have been fortunate to have had several mentors in my life and career. All of them shared several characteristics. They all…
- Were willing to share their wisdom, knowledge, skills and expertise.
- Had a positive outlook on life. They helped me through tough times and showed me how to find the opportunity in the difficulties I was facing.
- Were genuinely concerned about me and my success. In addition to be knowledgeable, they were empathic.
- Really knew what they were doing. I respected them for their knowledge and skills.
- Kept growing themselves. All of my mentors were curious and inquisitive. Sometimes the roles were reversed. They asked what I was reading, and then read the books themselves – so they could learn and we could discuss the ideas.
- Gave me direct, constructive feedback. They held me to high standards. They congratulated me when I met their expectations. They corrected me when I failed to do so – but in a manner where I learned what not to do the next time.
- Were respected by their colleagues. People who are highly regarded in their field or company make the best mentors.
- Sought out and valued the opinions of others. My best mentor always told me to listen most carefully to the people with whom I disagreed – in that way I might learn something. And, he was right.
As the old saying goes, a mentor is someone whose hindsight can become your foresight.
Do you want to find a mentor? Just look around you. Who are the people you admire and want to emulate? Watch what they do, and do the same. I’ve had several mentors who never even realized they were mentoring me.
I learned how to build a network of solid contacts by watching Maggie Watson. I learned the rules of business etiquette and dressing for success by watching Bill Rankin. I learned how to become a first rate public speaker by watching Steve Roesler. I learned how to become a trusted advisor by watching Don Nelson. I learned how to carry myself with dignity in even the most difficult situations by watching JF and Carol Kiernan. I learned how to become a better conversationalist by watching Cathy, my wife.
The reverse is also true. I’ve learned plenty about what not to do to build self esteem, give performance feedback and treat people with respect and dignity from observing a few of my managers over the years.
I’ve found that if you want to have an acknowledged mentoring relationship, all you have to do is ask. Go to the people you admire and tell them that you admire their judgment and would like to learn from them. Ask if you can impose on their time to get answers to questions you have. I have never had anyone turn me down when I’ve asked this way.